Directed by: Rian Johnson.
Written by: Rian Johnson.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Summer Qing (Old Joe's Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix), Frank Brennan (Old Seth), Garret Dillahunt (Jesse).
There’s a scene in Looper where Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sits down with his older self (Bruce Willis) in a diner and starts asking questions. Old Joe says “Let’s not start talking about time travel shit, or else we’ll end up diagraming everything out with straws”. That’s good advice, not just to Young Joe, but the audience watching Looper as well. I guarantee you that you won’t have to look very hard on the internet to find someone who will point out all the time travel contradictions in Looper – and to find others who disagree with them, and “prove” them wrong, only to have someone else correct them. This is true of pretty much every time travel movie ever made. But delving too deep into all that crap would, for me anyway, spoil the fun of Looper – which is a great time travel story. It sets up its own rules, and doesn’t really violate them in any way that became immediately apparent to me. Looper, like all time travel films, requires the audience to take a leap of faith for it to work at all. But if you take that leap, than Looper rewards you handsomely.
Joe is a Looper. What that means is that although it is 2044, he works for the mob from 2074. When they need someone killed, they send them back in time; Joe kills them and disposes of the body. Time travel is highly illegal in 2074, and hasn’t been invented yet in 2044, so eventually the mob will decide to end the contract with their loopers. The loopers have no idea when this will happen – they just know it will eventually. What happens when they end their contract is simple – they end up killing their future selves. Because everyone who gets sent back is bound and has a hood over their head, the loopers don’t know they’ve just killed their future selves until they go to the body to get their payment, which has been strapped to their victims – in place of the regular silver bars are gold ones. You’re now down being a looper, and know that in 30 years, you’ll be sent back in time and you’ll kill yourself. The profession, as Joe admits, doesn’t attract many forward thinkers. The consequences of NOT killing your future self are dire. But when Joe comes face to face with his future self – something is off. He isn’t bound, and has no hood on. Joe hesitates, and that’s all the time Old Joe needs to get away. I could explain more of the plot, but it would fruitless – and unfair to you, as one of the pleasures of the movie is the unexpected twists and turns it takes. Needless to say, Young Joe is being pursued by his employers as he pursues Old Joe – who is also pursued by Joe’s employers, and Joe himself. How Young Joe ends up on a farm, with Sara (Emily Blunt) and her young son, and what they mean, I’ll leave it for you to discover.
Looper is writer/director Rian Johnson’s third film – and his best to date. His debut Brick was an immensely entertaining high school noir, where all the characters talked like they were the stars of a 1940s classic noir. His follow-up with the caper comedy, The Brothers Bloom, in which Johnson seemed to be trying too hard to be Wes Anderson, instead of just being himself. Looper is his first film where he seems to be working on his own level – that isn’t as beholden to his influences as his previous films were. This is intelligent sci-fi, a movie that takes itself and its implications seriously. It is also a stylish action movie – with more violence, that at times is disturbingly realistic even when it seems outlandish. If his first two films showed promise, than Looper delivers on that promise.
The acting also helps a great deal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has been with Johnson since the beginning, delivers an excellent performance as Young Joe – even under all the makeup and special effects applied to his face to make him look more like Bruce Willis. He may start the movie as a soulless killer and drug addict, but he transforms throughout the movie – into someone willing to see the big picture. As Old Joe, Bruce Willis is perfectly cast. Johnson doesn’t spend anywhere near as much time with Old Joe, so having an actor like Willis – who we are used to seeing as a kick ass action star, does some of the work for him – and Willis does the rest. Often, Willis sleepwalks through roles, but not here. Emily Blunt is also terrific as the young, single mother – devoted to her child. The supporting cast – Paul Dano as Gordon-Levitt’s sniveling friend and Jeff Daniels as the mob boss in particular – are also terrific fun.
The real star here though is Johnson – especially his screenplay, which is one of the more original works of the year. This is an intelligent sci-fi action movie – that tackles some interesting issues, while still managing to be a superb, mainstream entertainment.